Posted in Kafevend Blog

We try to leave no stone unturned in our quest for tea and coffee inspired blogs, but the coffee we're going to be considering today requires turning over something other than stones. First up then we'll look at kopi luwak. Some people will have heard all about this unusual coffee already, but for anyone left scratching their head, allow us to explain.

Kopi is Indonesian for coffee and luwak is the name for a civet, a small raccoon-like animal. So kopi luwak is civet coffee, named as such because the coffee beans pass through a civet's digestive system. The fleshy pulp of the coffee cherry, which surrounds the bean, is used to make a tea in certain areas of the world, but in parts of Indonesia it's eaten by the omnivorous civet. The coffee bean in the centre isn't chewed, but passes through the civet's digestive tract before being excreted. Those who enjoy this type of coffee are convinced that the fermentation which occurs during digestion results in a less acidic end product. They also argue that a civet will choose to eat the best coffee cherries meaning that the beans will be of a superior quality too.

The Indonesian islands of Bali, Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi are key to kopi luwak production, as are the Philippines. Unfortunately, the coffee's reputation has been soured by its own growing market, which has led, in some instances, to captive civets being confined to cages and force fed coffee cherries, with the same implications for animal welfare as battery hens. It was this darker side to kopi luwak that resulted in the development of a coffee named Black Ivory, which has been on a journey through the body of an animal far, far bigger than that of the civet...

Highly sought after by some of the world's wealthiest citizens, Black Ivory coffee passes through the digestive tract of none other than the Asian elephant! The company's Canadian founder, Blake Dinkin, was keen to produce a premium coffee with an animal that wasn't being exploited. Elephants are herbivores, which means that their digestion involves a greater degree of fermentation than the omnivorous civet's. It can take an elephant up to thirty hours to digest its food, meaning there's also plenty of time for enzymes to break down coffee proteins, resulting in a less bitter taste.

The elephants involved in this coffee project live at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, in the far north of Thailand. These rescued elephants live in a safe environment and one of the foundation's aims is to demonstrate that working elephants and their mahouts can earn a living without having to get involved in illegal logging, circus acts and the like. Helping to produce Black Ivory coffee is just a part of their daily lives. Thai arabica beans are added to the elephants' diet. Incredibly, some 33kg are required to produce just 1kg of the finished product. This makes Black Ivory coffee very rare, as well as the most expensive there is. It's certainly not a brand you'll encounter on the weekly shop. Only a handful of the most exclusive hotels in Thailand and the Maldives offer the coffee to their guests.

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